The Imprint of Christmas Letters – Guest Post by Jill Herr   3 comments

Over the past few weeks, many wonderful women have sent me blog posts to share with you.  None of these women know each other, and yet, several of them have written about Christmas letters, without any prompting from me.  I think something significant is going on here.  We should probably pay attention.  

I made a resolution this New Year’s Day (well, actually in December) when I started to get the annual round of Christmas cards from friends. Except most of them weren’t cards at all. They were simply photos of their children, on a single piece of photo paper–sometimes a collage, sometimes just one photo with a phrase like, “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings from the [insert family name here]”. Every time I got a mailing like that (I hesitate to even call them “cards”, I looked into the envelope, hoping for a letter to go along with it. Practically every time I was disappointed –and hurt, to tell the truth; there was no narrative about what they had done over the past year–no listing of their children’s accomplishments or developmental milestones, no litanies about their family vacations or staycations. To those of you who did include a letter, or at least a brief handwritten note, I thank you. For some, it doesn’t seem to make too much sense to give me that whole narrative (or even a card) if I’ve seen you every week; I would have welcomed a letter though, and not found it boring.

There have been many jokes and derogatory comments about gushing Christmas missives written by braggadocios that only serve to belittle the recipient. But that type of correspondence is extremely rare. Perhaps those snide remarks have discouraged many people from writing notes, or perhaps given them an excuse not to do so. Really, when do most of my friends have a chance to boast about their kids? It shows their love and pride, and the progeny that are old enough (and care enough) to read their parents’ letters feel good about themselves. For this reason we get: “Johnny’s working hard this year in school, really dedicated to his schoolwork. He has made many friends and his teachers often mention how much he adds to their classes” instead of “Johnny is failing in school and is either in remedial tutoring after school or in detention for disruptive behavior that creates frustration for his teachers. He has many acquaintances in the school office where he commonly visits the principal; the secretaries all know him by name”. So parents may sugar coat their children’s activities–that’s okay. I understand and expect that to a certain degree.

Why do we feel the obligation to write Christmas letters, anyway? It is the same need as putting up decorations and a tree, or the holiday won’t be a holiday. You must make cookies and have family dinners and fill your calendars with Christmas programs. You must get the shopping done, searching around for the best deals whether that means going from store to store or just searching the internet to buy online. You need to find that perfect gift for your family and friends. Busy and ragged, we don’t really celebrate at all.

Slow down a bit. Take a couple of hours to write a letter, to print it out and mail it. You’re doing the stuffing of the envelopes already, since you’re planning to send the photographs. Go ahead and include them, too. My perfect gift from you doesn’t cost you any more than some time (probably less than what you may have spent in looking for a gift anyway) and the price of ink and a piece of paper. I just want to hear about you–your excitements, your hopes and dreams, what you desire for your children, the sorrows you have met in the past year. Yes, I would love to see your kids’ pictures but I also want to hear about you and what has filled your life. I’ve lost touch with so many of you over the years. Sure, I have your addresses, but I no longer know how to reach you. I may have you as a friend on Facebook (thank goodness for that connection or I would have lost so many more of you) but those updates are snippets, not narratives; comic strips, not short stories. All I have of you is a picture that may end up on my refrigerator for a couple of weeks and then get thrown away. (I do throw them out; you do too, just admit it.) I’d like a letter that I tuck away to read a number of times, perhaps keep for years (although I do, of course, eventually throw most of them out).

What would happen if we met on the street? I might recognize you (assuming I can recollect what you look like and that you really haven’t changed since high school or college–doubtful by now), but could I easily strike up a conversation with you? I want to be able to ask, “How is Johnny doing? Has he won the Merit Scholarship? He sounds so dedicated, he must have a lot of college prospects!” No, it would be that awkward getting-to-know-a-stranger conversation: what do you do, what are your hobbies, how many kids do you have and how old are they? A letter makes more of an imprint on the soul than a casual photograph. It is an etching, a work of art. I can run my fingers over it and feel the texture of your lives.

I would like an etching for Christmas, a keepsake of you. I resolve to give you one of myself this year.

Jill Herr dreams of receiving countless Christmas letters from everyone she knows. She is an intermediate knitter, an insatiable reader, an eager writer, and a neophyte voice actor.


Posted February 1, 2012 by Andi Cumbo-Floyd in Life Lessons, Relationships

3 responses to “The Imprint of Christmas Letters – Guest Post by Jill Herr

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  1. It is rare that I get a Christmas letter. However, I am not about to criticize anyone on this matter since I cannot fathom why anyone would wish to receive a picture of me, let alone a letter about my year of lethargy. I must say that of the letters I do receive, the honest, heart-felt ones are so meaningful. “Johnny is struggling with autism” or “We are adjusting to Suzie’s spinal development issues” make me value these people as my friends so much more than “Everything is perfect in our world.” Frankly, I find your perfect world boring and depressing and cannot fathom how you can struggle to get out of bed in the morning with no motivation to improve yourself.

    Honesty and humility are the yardsticks of my friendships.

  2. Very insightful comment! I also agree on it, and actually have provided more information on the subject in my blog Jah bless!

  3. Jill,

    I’ve never been the Christmas letter type. I think I tried it once a few years before I got married, and didn’t get much of a response. Now in the new age of facebook, social networking, and instant internet contact, it somehow doesn’t seem necessary to write such letters. I do, however hear your plea. I know Treva has written “dear friends” letters to everyone on our list most years, but time is becoming less available as we march toward Mikayla’s teen years.

    My Uncle, the one that everyone loved, but sadly died prematurely, used to hand write letters on post cards to everyone that he knew. One Christmas I remember he said that he sent out over 100 hand written letters (they were usually very lengthy). They were hallmark commercials, each one. Most people who knew him still hold on to those treasured cards. He was, I should add, single for the last 10 years of his life, and had lots of free time to spend writing these letters.

    I would like to carry on in his footsteps, but time is the key element that family life simply does not yield to such things. Maybe when I am retired, I will be able to adopt such disciplines with renewed energy.

    Peace friend.

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